Posted by: atowhee | October 24, 2022


This morning a quartet of waterproof hominids worked under roof and under falling rain to erect the first-ever Motus receiving station in northern Oregon. All the equipment was paid for by a grant from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife. The grantee was Salem Audubon Society. The location was next to the Ankeny NWR Nature Center, on a hill overlooking much of the refuge. That line of sight means the tower and its sensor will have access to signals from tagged birds up to fifteen miles away!

Leader of our group was Vanessa Loverti, Regional Shorebird Co-ordinator with U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service,who’s put up other towers and was our hardware expert. Ankeny NWR volunteer and digital tech specialist, Rich Schramm was there. Also, another worker from Loverti’s office in Portland.

Here is the process in pictures:

Here is most of a piece I wrote for the Oregon Birding Association earlier this year on the global Motus program and its presence in Oregon so far:

motus is the most all-seeing, all-recording bird tracking technology we’ve ever had.  It is a global network or receivers and an online data base that can be used to study bird movement, range use, feeding and roosting behavior.  There are over 1300 motus receivers already arrayed over five continents: North and South America, Europe, Asia (only 2) and Australia.  The receivers are in more than 30 countries and over 31,000 birds have been tagged.

This system and the many research projects using its advantages are based on radio telemetry.  A tiny transmitter is attached to the bird which is released back into nature.  Any time that bird comes within ten miles or so of a receiver it’s presence and exact movements are tracked and recorded, for twenty minutes or months on end.  No observer is required to get binocs on the bird, no camera needed, nobody in the field listening at 3 A.M.  Digital tech does most of the work once transmitter and receiver are in place.

The motus receiver at Ankeny is expected to be the first in the Willamette Valley, a major miqration route and home to large numbers of wintering birds from further north or east of the Cascades.  The Bandon tower is still the only one on the Oregon Coast.  Klamath Bird Observatory has two.  One is along the Rogue River north of Medford—one if its earliest subjects is Lewis’s Woodpecker.  Last fall it recorded two coming to Jackson County from the mountains of Idaho/Montana. The second tower is in the Cascades at Howard Prairie, east of Ashland.  One focus there: Vesper Sparrows. Two more towers have been installed at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One is on the maintenance shop roof at headquarters, with a great view of wetlands and south shore of Klamath Lake.  The second is an Boca Lake, about halfway between the Narrows and Frenchglen and closed to the public. This one relies ion  solar power and data must be downloaded as there is no internet out there.

One study of Black Terns using motus found that nearly all the individuals spent some of their winter off the coast of Panama.

A study of migratory Swainson’s Thrushes in fall found those still molting would stay 45 days or more at a stopover, much longer than any bird-banding data had suggested.

Another, Oregon-involved, bit of Swainson’s Thrush data indicates how little we know and how wrong our mammal brains’ assumptions can be when considering bird behavior.  In September, 2021, the motus station at Bandon picked up two birds previously banded up in Alaska.  Perfectly logical–directly down along the coast, avoiding open sea, mountains, arid inland.  They’re headed to Central and South America.  But we assume they would later pass over San Diego, then maybe Acapulco, right? The next motus signals from these two were detected in…North Carolina, due east of Bandon!  From there they crossed the Caribbean to Latin America.  So much we don’t know but motus may yet teach us.

[Having talked with experienced field ornithologists, I have come to accept the suggestion that Alaskan SWTH are likely a separate species from the ones breeding down here, a species that evolved on East Coast and spread westward through Canadian boreal forests. So they needed to migrate thru Florida as their ancestors have done for millennia. Think of the many “eastern” birds that breed west of us in Alaska, then mostly migrate east of the Rockies, e.g. American Redstart, waterthrush, etc. etc.]


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